Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in America. Although it was the fifth lighthouse constructed in the colonies, it is now the oldest surviving lighthouse in America. Sandy Hook Lighthouse is recognized as America's oldest lighthouse by the United States Lighthouse Society. The U.S. National Park Service declares it as America's oldest operating lighthouse.
A committee of prominent New York citizens was authorized to establish the lottery and purchase a small quantity of land at the tip of Sandy Hook to build a lighthouse. Negotiations with Robert and Esek Hartshorne, the owners of Sandy Hook, resulted in the purchase, on May 16, 1762, of four acres of barren, sandy soil for the moderate price of 750 pounds.”
Sandy Hook Lighthouse was designed and built on June 11, 1764 by Isaac Conro. It was originally called the "New York Lighthouse." It was built from sandstone and its light can be seen from a distance of up to 19 nautical miles.
The June 18, 1764 edition of the New York Mercury reported that “On Monday Evening last June 11, 1764, the NEW-YORK LIGHT HOUSE erected at Sandy Hook was lighted for the first Time. The Lighthouse is of an octagonal figure, having eight equal sides; the diameter at the base, 29 Feet; and at the top of the wall, 15 Feet. The Lanthorn (lantern house) is 7 Feet high; the circumference 33 feet. The whole construction of the lanthorn is Iron; the top covered with Copper. There are 48 oil blazes. The building from the surface is nine stories; the whole from bottom to top, 103 feet.”
To pay for the operation and maintenance of the new lighthouse, the Colony of New York authorized a tonnage tax of three pence per ton on ships sailing into the harbor. This enabled the Port of New York to maintain the tower, pay a keeper’s salary, and make a small profit from any surplus tax money.
By 1863 extensive repairs including a new edifice, a brick lining inside the tower and new iron steps to replace the old wooden stairs were completed. In 1889 Sandy Hook Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in the U.S. to be lit by incandescent lamps. In 1996 ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.
The lighthouse has witnessed many changes over the years, but the greatest change has been to the Sandy Hook peninsula itself. In 1764, the lighthouse stood just 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook. Ocean currents continued to move sand up the coast, extending the tip further out into the harbor, so that by 1864, the lighthouse stood about 4,000 feet from the tip. The lighthouse now stands about one and one half miles from the northern end of Sandy Hook.
The National Park Service currently owns the tower and the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the light. The lighthouse was automated in 1965 and is still a working lighthouse today. On June 11, 1964 the lighthouse was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark on its 200th anniversary.
Sandy Hook lighthouse is open to the public weekends May 1 - Oct 31, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1 - April 30, 1 to 3:30 p.m. Park Rangers lead the tours. Tours are first come, first serve and can only be scheduled in person at the Visitor's Center. This oldest lighthouse in the US is on the grounds of Fort Hancock and is just one of the unbeatable tourist attractions at Sandy Hook. The peninsula also boasts a spectacular holly forest, excellent surf fishing, hiking, beaches, trails, salt marshes, more than 300 species of birds and other historical sites.
*Note: Some sources claim the Boston Light Lighthouse in Boston, MA. to be the oldest lighthouse in America. However this is not accurate. Although it was originally built in 1716, decades before Sandy Hook Lighthouse, it was destroyed by the British as the last of the British were leaving Boston. They blew up the lighthouse, completely destroying it. The current lighthouse was not rebuilt by Massachusetts until 1783. This makes Sandy Hook Lighthouse the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the United States.